Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Feraday's "expert" evidence

[The following are brief excerpts from a long article published in The Herald on this date in 2005. I strongly recommend that the full text be read:]

[T]he man I am interviewing, Gilbert McNamee ... usually known as Danny ... is the man who was accused of being the "master bomb-maker" behind the devastating 1982 Hyde Park blast which killed four members of the Household Cavalry. McNamee was found guilty in 1987 and sentenced to a 25-year jail term. He served 12 years before his release under the Good Friday Agreement. It wasn't until 1998 that his conviction for conspiracy to cause explosions was quashed on appeal and declared unsafe. (...)
During his trial, the Crown put forward in evidence three fingerprints and two pieces of electronic circuit board. The fingerprints were from a bomb left on a London street, and from sticky tape found in two separate arms caches, recovered in 1983 and early 1984. One of the circuit boards had been found in one of the arms caches; the other fragment was said to have been discovered after the bomb explosion at Hyde Park in 1982. The Crown's key scientific witness, Allen Feraday, said the two were matched in design and "artwork" and therefore made by the same master bombmaker. The prosecution based its case on the link between McNamee's fingerprint, the circuit board found in the arms cache, and the fragment of circuit board from Hyde Park.
When I mention Feraday to McNamee he looks directly at me. "I don't hate him, " he says. "I don't hate any of them. But I hate their methods."
McNamee's case was not the first conviction Feraday helped secure which was later overturned as unsafe. Feraday was severely criticised by the Lord Chief Justice in another case - Regina v Berry - before McNamee's conviction was finally quashed. John Berry, jailed in 1983 for selling timers to the Middle East, had his conviction quashed in 1993 after military experts challenged Feraday's evidence. The then Lord Chief Justice said the nature of Feraday's evidence in Berry's case was "dogmatic in the extreme" and "open to doubt at the very least".
In July this year, the conviction in a third case involving Feraday's expert advice was overturned. After a 20-year legal battle, the Lord Chief Justice ruled that the conviction of 53-year-old Hassan Assali, a Libyan, on terrorist conspiracy charges, was unsafe.
Assali's Hertfordshire factory was raided in 1984 and timing devices were seized. Feraday, the prosecution's only expert witness, said there was no lawful purpose for the devices, which Assali claimed were for domestic use.
"I am unable to contemplate their use in other than terrorist bombs, " Feraday told St Albans Crown Court at Assali's trial. After Assali's release, his legal team commissioned military experts from Berry's case, with backgrounds in explosives and electronics, whose subsequent report cast doubt on Feraday's evidence. The case was referred to the Court of Appeal in 2003, and the conviction was then overturned.
Perhaps more controversially, Feraday told judges in the case of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi - the Libyan convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, in which 270 people died - that a fragment of a circuit board found in the wreckage was part of the bomb's detonator. The trial judges accepted his conclusion. In 2001, judges at a special court at Camp Zeist in Holland found Megrahi, now 53, guilty of murder. He was sentenced to life in jail. His co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was cleared.
Feraday, now in his sixties, carried out some of the principal work on the key piece of forensic evidence at the Royal Armaments Research and Development Establishment (RARDE) at Fort Halstead in Kent. RARDE, the main UK forensic centre for examining terrorist incidents, was subsumed into the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) after re-organisation. Feraday retired after 42 years' distinguished work.
Papers about Feraday's evidence in the previous cases have been sent to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), which is investigating Megrahi's conviction, and speculation is rife that the Libyan could be freed if the commission refers his case to the appeal courts. There are also reports that he might be repatriated to his home country. Last month it was reported that the British, American and Libyan governments were negotiating the transfer of Megrahi to a prison in his home country on condition that he drops his appeal, suggesting that both the British and American governments would rather the case was not re-opened. Tony Kelly, who represents Megrahi, refused to comment on the pattern of quashed convictions: "My client has taken the firm view that we will not comment on the case while it is with the SCCRC."
Having worked on both the Berry and Assali cases, forensic expert Major Owen Lewis (retired), who served with the Royal Signals for 22 years, is, according to one source, investigating crucial forensic elements of the Lockerbie case on behalf of Megrahi.
Throughout his career, Lewis, who had particular experience of the Middle East, acquired specialist knowledge of electronic warfare, triggers, improvised explosive devices and surveillance.
The source said: "By now he's already got the modus operandi. And he knows how it works. Lewis is a very shrewd man, a very clever man." Kelly, Megrahi's lawyer, steadfastly refuses to comment. (...)
Dr Michael Scott, now a senior lecturer in computing at Dublin City University, gave evidence at the High Court in London where McNamee appealed his sentence. Scott has a degree in electronics from Queen's University, Belfast, and in engineering from Trinity College, Dublin. In 1977 he finished his doctoral dissertation at the University of Dundee. In spite of heading the government's explosives unit, Feraday's only relevant qualification was a Higher National Certificate in Applied Physics and Electronics. Throughout his career, however, he has spent a number of years studying explosives, and also specialised in analysing the capability of the IRA. He has also given testimony in many cases where his evidence was upheld. In June 1989 Feraday was made an OBE in the Queen's birthday honours.
When I contacted Scott in Dublin, he told me: "Taking circuit boards out of the explosives context, which in many cases was appropriate, then any number of electronic engineers would be better qualified than Feraday. Feraday's most damning conclusion was to point at a piece of electronics and say that it was part of a bomb, a purpose for which it was specifically designed and constructed, and that it could not be for any other purpose.
"However, his knowledge of electronics is in fact elementary, and his conclusions often just plain wrong. The electronics indeed could have other uses. His advantage is his explosives experience. However, even in this context there would be others better qualified than him. At the Berry appeal, where Berry had access to British army expertise, Feraday's evidence was, if you will excuse the expression, completely blown away."
Scott also described as "just nonsense" Feraday's assertion that the circuit board found in McNamee's case could only be used for bomb-making. "The simple circuit board found in this particular context could have had many other uses. Indeed, it was just an amplifier board, which is itself just a component. Just because an alarm clock can be used to make a bomb, it doesn't make possession of an alarm clock tantamount to possession of a bomb." (...)
The voice at the other end of the telephone is more upbeat than I expected. "I'm just getting on with my life, " says Hassan Assali, buoyantly. It's just over three months since his conviction on terrorist conspiracy charges was ruled unsafe, following a 20-year battle to clear his name. Having lost his house, his successful business and his first wife (he was divorced while in prison but has since remarried), he now lives in rented accommodation in Surrey. He is reluctant to discuss his case now that he intends suing the Crown for his false conviction, but he believes his freedom has given him his own sense of moral justice. (...)
He served six and a half years. After his release, his legal team commissioned military experts . . . Major Lewis, Lt Colonel John Wyatt (retired; a 23-year veteran of the Royal Engineers, involved in bomb disposal and counter terrorist operations) and Squadron Leader Michael Hoyes (retired; a chartered engineer who spent 22 years with the RAF) . . . whose report cast doubt on Feraday's evidence. As a result his conviction was overturned by the Lord Chief Justice.
According to the Appeal Court judgment:
"There is no doubt that an important part of the Crown's case against the appellant [Assali] depended on the evidence of Mr Feraday . . .
He examined all the devices that had been recovered. His evidence supported the Crown's case with regard to the nature of those devices."
The judgement also cited the Berry case, which had similarities to Assali's. It stated:
"On the appeal in that case, evidence was given by Major Lewis and Colonel Wyatt, together with Dr Bora, who were highly experienced and impressive court experts who concluded that similar devices to those in this case were simply timers. Mr Feraday had also given evidence in the case of Berry. The evidence which was given by the three experts to whom we have just referred rebutted the evidence of Mr Feraday that the absence of safety devices in the timers prevented their use for legitimate purposes.
Accordingly, the Court of Appeal concluded in Berry that Mr Feraday's opinions were central to the trial and were open to doubt at the very least. They therefore quashed Mr Berry's conviction. As the evidence of Mr Feraday was equally crucial to the prosecution in this case, the implications for this case were obvious."
Of Allen Feraday, Hassan Assali simply says: "He's a very, very experienced evidencegiver. If his evidence managed to convince a judge, he must have been bloody good."
Part of the prosecution's response to the Assali appeal stated: "Critical to the case against the appellant [Assali] was Allen Feraday's evidence. The Crown is of the view that there is a reasonable argument to suggest that the . . .
material [meaning the report by Assali's defence experts] might well have left his [Feraday's] evidence open to reasonable doubt. In the circumstances, the Crown does not feel it is in a position to advance argument to support the safety of the conviction on this basis, and will not seek to resist the argument of the appellant that this material renders his conviction unsafe."
Assali was officially a free man on July 19, 2005.
Assali believes the successful challenge to the evidence in his own case "will have significance on the Megrahi case". He also believes his own case was delayed in a bid to prevent Feraday's evidence being scrutinised before Megrahi's appeal. "The authorities didn't want to rock the Lockerbie boat. This bollocks about Megrahi . . . absolute shit. I know there is some devastating stuff. The SCCRC will have it at the moment. And they can dig up further because they have extreme powers.When that comes up . . . by God. That's the satisfaction I have at the moment." (...)
Allen Feraday lives in Halling, in Rochester, Kent. He was invited to comment when contacted at his home, but declined.
Danny McNamee lives a life now where people don't really know about his past. (...)
"The system cannot handle someone who says, 'But I didn't do this, boys.'" Curiously, he says he always knew the legal process . . . though not necessarily British justice . . . would free him. "Not in those terms, " he explains. "What it did do was make me understand the value of the legal system being properly implemented. The rules are there to be followed. If there was anger, it was towards the people who should know better . . . the people who don't obey the rules and they know the rules."
Before finishing up, he talks briefly about the Lockerbie case and the impact his own case … and the cases of Berry and Assali ... might have on it. "They know Feraday's judgement is, at the very least, questionable, " he says, his voice weighed down by his past. "But you have to ask not really a question about him, but a question about the prosecuting authorities who then seek to rely upon someone whose evidence has been discredited."
He shrugs. His life has moved on. It's not come tumbling down. But the ripples of his story are still being felt. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi is serving his sentence in Greenock Prison near Glasgow, where he continues to protest his innocence. The case is being considered by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, whose findings are expected to be announced early in 2006.
According to one source, "the unmasking of the judicial system and all its hubris will be there for all to see".

1 comment:

  1. Looking at other matters Lt Col John Wyatt is involved in, I'd be very wary indeed of accepting anything he says at face value.

    Indeed, a footnote in John Ashton's book also casts serious doubt on his reliability as regards the Lockerbie evidence.